A woman has been charged with running a complex retail fraud scheme that bilked Montgomery County residents and businesses out of at least $337,000 since 2010.
The scam, according to court documents, worked like this: Employees at restaurants and other businesses would skim credit card data from customers. That information was loaded onto other credit cards, and conspirators in the scheme used those cards, or gift cards purchased with those credit cards, to buy items from Montgomery County stores. They generally later returned the fraudulently purchased items for cash, court documents say.
Authorities say 23-year-old Monet Griffin, of Baltimore, was identified as a key member in the group and personally made at least $30,000 in fraudulent purchases. She was charged last week in federal court in Greenbelt with access device fraud.
Court records say a public defender will represent Griffin, but no attorney was listed for her as of Friday.
Law enforcement officials in the D.C. area have said organized retail crime is a growing problem, and nearly 100 percent of merchants surveyed by the National Retail Federation say organized crime rings have targeted their stores. In many cases, the thieves will physically steal -- rather than fraudulently purchase -- items and sell the merchandise themselves instead of making a fraudulent return.
In Griffin's case, court documents say she "converted hundreds of thousands of dollars of gift cards purchased with stolen credit and debit card information into U.S. currency" through more than 100 fraudulent purchases.
Video surveillance shows Griffin using stolen credit card numbers to buy hundreds of dollars in Safeway gift cards at a time, court documents say. On one day in August, she bought $2,300 in Safeway gift cards and $400 in Nordstrom gift cards at one Safeway store in Rockville, the documents say.
In another instance, in September, police were called to a Montgomery Village Safeway when an employee became suspicious after a woman -- later identified as Griffin -- tried to buy food and gift cards using "suspect credit cards," according to court records. The worker was on alert because she recognized Griffin, who had used stolen credit card information to buy $3,500 in gift cards the previous month, court records say.
State court records show that Griffin is also facing dozens of credit card and theft-related charges in Queen Anne's County.
Court documents say Griffin worked with other people in the scheme, but do not say how many others were involved.